Missouri Community Conquers the Aftermath of a Natural Disaster

USFR From the Farm Missouri Levee
The levee system in Carroll County, Mo. experienced three major breaks in a 19.6 mile stretch. The local community rallied together to repair the damage on their own. ( Mike Byers )

The work since the 2019 flood started hasn’t stopped in Carroll County, Mo.

“It was a lot bigger project than we first originally thought,” said Travis Matthews, a farmer and local landowner. “On the first project alone we had about 35 people working and we ran consecutive days in a row.”

“At one time we had over 30 tractors and scrapers,” says Chris Heil, a local farmer and landowner.

The work done all winter by local landowners and others helped the community- one that thrives on agriculture- conquer a major feat.

“We've got 100% of our levee system, which is 19.6 miles,  100% back to where it was before pre flood,” adds Heil.

The feat seemed impossible at times.

“In the beginning there was much river current,” explains Matthews. “It took a lot of rock. It took a lot of extra yards of dirt we were’t expecting and it took us about 60 days to get that first levee breach shut off.”

The effort was an uphill battle at times, but one not even a raging river could stop.

“This is the plywood fence that was put in on a Sunday afternoon to stop the river that was coming through right there,” explains Heil while pointing to a massive breach in the river levee. “We had to do this so we could finish plugging the last breach in our levee system. The water was running over that plywood at the time.”

The view from the ground is both surprising and heartbreaking; a view that’s just as astonishing from above.

 “This is where all the plywood was and a lot still is,” pointed out Adam Plattner, of Grand Pass, Mo.

Plattner started surveying the flood damage as the first levee broke, and he continues to watch progress as local landowners head into spring planting.

“These guys have done such an amazing job with building the private levees and all the work,” he says. “It's incredible.”

Back on the ground, this area needed to repair three levee breaches in 19 miles. The fixes were not only difficult, but weren't cheap. However, landowners knew it was the only lifeline in stopping any future surges of water from coming in.

“Without the volunteers, we wouldn't be where we're at today,” says Matthews..

The amazing effort wasn’t just done by landowners, but the help came from the entire community.

“We had businesses that would bring food in to keep everybody going,” says Heil as tears filled his eyes. “It was just a hell of an effort.”

The endeavor washed up success in the midst of so many post-flooding struggles.

“I've talked a lot of the levee districts that are still kind of holding out waiting on the Corps (USACE) for funding and they're struggling,” explains Matthews. “We have a wonderful community that comes together. And without them we would not be we would not be nearly done with our breaks.”

The victory may seem small, but for local landowners, they conquered the aftermath of a natural disaster.

“Come hell or high water, we're going to farm it,” adds Heil as he talks about his plans for planting in 2020.

The effort was an ode to an unrelenting group of farmers, determined to keep the farming legacy alive.  

“Our ancestors settled this river bottom  ground and started farming back in the early 1900s,” says Matthews. “It's our heritage; it’s just where we grew up. That's all we know. We're very heavily vested in this bottom and we want to continue to be here."